An interview of mine by Ishita Bhadra, a student of Journalism

“Unless you are a good reader, you cannot become a good writer…”

in conversation with…

Prakash Gowda

Prakash Gowda whose first book, Baker’s Dozen, was recently published; is a copywriter by profession and fiction-writer by passion. In a candid chat with Ishita Bhadra, the new ‘author’ speaks about his roots, his inspirations, the making of his first book, the future of Indian literature, the advent of e-books and his future projects.

The stories of Baker’s Dozen have a certain flowing characteristic to them like those of a born story-teller. Does story-telling run in your family?

Thanks for the compliment. I really admire your keen observation on the flowing characteristics of stories in Baker’s Dozen. The virtue of storytelling is something I probably picked up from my grandfather’s sister. She used to narrate fascinating tales in a bid to try putting us (me and my younger sister) to sleep, but the stories enchanted me so much that I could never sleep and keep asking for more. I still wish to have those narration skills that she possessed. I could hardly narrate stories orally. Funnily, I end up giving away the suspense right in the first few lines, to make the listener understand the concept! So I am better off as a storyteller in writing.

For how long have you been ‘writing’ for Baker’s Dozen? Was it difficult to pick stories for ‘the’ first book?

The stories of Baker’s Dozen have been with me since almost a decade. I was always a lazy writer who lacked the discipline to sit and write daily. All I used to do was to scribble the basic plotline here and there, and forget about it. It was only after I chanced upon an interview of Prasoon Joshi, I decided to mend my ways. I wondered if Prasoon Joshi, despite his hectic schedule can manage to write a poem daily, I can at least try writing thrice a week.

Hence, the ‘three hours thrice a week’ regime evolved into ‘one hour daily’, coupled with two hours of reading. This is a practice I have maintained till date. Ironically, the stories of Baker’s Dozen were never meant to be for my first book. I have been writing my ‘first book’ since a decade. It’s called ‘In search of God’ – a fiction revolving around religions.

The stories of ‘Baker’s Dozen’ were written as an attempt to take a break from ‘In search of God’. I had no difficulty in choosing the stories for Baker’s Dozen because I had only twelve stories to share. The first story, ‘The devil’s share’ was written just a day before submitting the manuscript of five sample stories to the publisher, in a bid to impress them.

Which authors inspire you? Which books are your favourite, those which you can’t just stop recommending to others?

To begin with, I strongly believe that unless you aren’t a good reader, you cannot become a good writer. This is precisely the reason I dedicate two hours of my day to read and one hour to write. Gulzar, as a writer, poet, lyricist, and filmmaker, has and shall always remain my source of inspiration. His poetry collections like, ‘Raat Pashmine ki’, ‘Raat Chaand Aur Mein’, ‘100 lyrics’ have always been a source of inspiration and will continue to do so. His short story collection ‘Dyodhi’ (in Hindi) and ‘Raavi Paar’ (in English) are something I strongly recommend to readers interested in short stories.

Other than Gulzar, I really look up to Ayn Rand. Other books that have inspired me are ‘The Alchemist’, ‘Veronica Decides to Die’, ‘Like a Flowing River’ by Paulo Coelho, and ‘Immortals of Meluha’ by Amish Tripathi, ‘The Japanese Wife’ by Kunal Basu, ‘Bridges of Madison County’ by Robert James Waller, ‘Tales from Ferozshah Baugh’ by Rohinton Mistry, ‘The Guide’ by R. K. Narayan, and Rani Dharker’s ‘Anurima’.

Have you ever struggled with a writer’s block? How do you deal when words just don’t come to the mind?

‘Writer’s Block’ is an occupational hazard, which I come across everyday as a professional copywriter as well as while writing my own stuff. The only solution I could come up with is to pick up a book or read articles on the internet. Sometimes it works, most of the times it doesn’t. The last story of ‘Baker’s Dozen’ seemed to refuse moving ahead. The publishers were following up for the submission of final manuscript and there I was – trying to desperately figure out how to take the concept ahead. Fortunately, a brainwave hit at 3 am, while I was fast asleep and I frantically noted down the key plotline. This was my worst experience of writer’s block. Recently, a colleague of mine recommended me a book called ‘Write – 10 ways to overcome writer’s block’ by Karen E. Peterson. I strongly recommend it to every writer.

We are seeing established professionals giving up jobs to become full-time writers. So is now ‘writing’ established as full-time career?

Writing has always been a full-time career for me. As a Copywriter, I’ve been writing for a living. So there’s no way I’d quit my job to become a fiction writer. A copywriter’s job keeps me connected to the people. It constantly hones my skills and keeps me on my toes. It also makes me a ruthless editor. Once I finish writing, I could easily chop off the redundant parts of my book and retain what engrosses the reader. In hindsight, I can consider becoming a full-time writer as a retirement plan. But, if you are talking about IIT-IIM graduates leaving their jobs to become writers, you need to be a best-selling author for that luxury. I think India is still far away from recognizing fiction writing as a career.

You are a regular blogger. Have the trends like blogging and news-on-net brought back reading and writing to our generations?

The trend of blogging has surely made reading and writing ‘cool’. The best thing about blogging is that it connects the writer directly to the readers. One can easily consider the number of ‘Likes’, ‘Retweets’, and number of subscribers and followers as a method to gauge one’s quality of writing.

Trends of reading are changing. The e-books are as much popular as any other reading medium. I also found the concept of audio books appealing. I ‘read’ the book, ‘Immortals of Meluha’, by listening to its audio book during morning walks. So I believe trends of reading and writing are surely looking up, and it is indeed high time writers adapt themselves with the changing times.

Do you think the newer Indians writing in English are ready for the international markets?

Like I said earlier, the trends of reading and writing are changing. The Internet has blurred the border lines and made way for globalization. So it’s no longer about ‘Indians making a mark across the globe’, but everyone getting an equal opportunity of expressing themselves and sharing stories from diverse cultures and ethnicities. For instance, Khalid Hosseni’s ‘The Kite Runner’ was as well received as Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ or the recent Ashwini Sanghi’s ‘The Krishna Key’. There’s something for everyone, including us Indians.

Is the English we use in India going through a transformation with the growing influence of Hinglish? Dictionaries like Oxford and Collins’ listing words of Indian origin are we on our way to come up with Indian English recognized globally?

English and Hindi have been influenced by languages from across the world, including Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, German, French, and so forth. So the inclusion of Hindi words in Oxford dictionary is like going back to the times when languages were still at nascent stage. I hope this trend of merging English and Hindi evolves into an interesting language, which we now term as ‘Hinglish’. Imagine coming across a section of ‘Hinglish’ in a bookstore. Sounds exciting!

You made a short film to promote your book, and then edged it up with a stage act. Facebook pages, twitter trends are also common. Is it an attempt to grab more and more eyeballs or is it the obvious step for our times of technology?

I came across a promo film of ‘Immortals of Meluha’ on the author’s website. This triggered an idea of creating a short film for Baker’s Dozen. I was approached by Splatter Studio to have a book reading session at their venue. After a few brainstorming sessions, we zeroed in on the idea of performing thirteen short plays based on each story from Baker’s Dozen. This idea by my friend, Jay Merchant made complete sense to me, as I had always noticed that people find book reading events yawn-inducing. We later planned to screen the short film promo before the event commenced. Like you mentioned, it was done to grab more and more eyeballs, and was also an obvious step for our times of technology.

Which is the most hard-to-reach section of the readers? Is it, as many have stated, the boys in their teens and 20s?

Contrary to the belief that teens and youngsters in their twenties don’t read, let me tell you that I have found most of my readers belonging to this demography. The only hard-to-reach section of the readers is the middle aged men, who are more engrossed in their 9-5 (it’s no longer 9-5 these days and this phrase requires an immediate makeover). Despite leading a hectic as well as sedentary lifestyle, people of this age group seldom pick up a book and read – Blame it on TV and movies, which is much a convenient tool of entertainment as compared to turning pages and bookmarking them.

Furthermore, this age group has a preconceived notion and biased opinion on almost everything on earth. So if you tell them it’s a fiction, they’ll quip, “I read only biographies”. If you recommend them a self help, they’ll flash their ‘Been there done that’ attitude. The only person they’ll believe in is the person they really look up to or perhaps if their boss recommends something. If you know them, they might buy the book you recommend, but won’t necessarily read them. Like they say – you can take water to a horse but you cannot make the horse drink it. Of course there are exceptions, but like I said, they are ‘exceptions’.

Do you plan to write a full-fledged, 300+ pages novel? Or do you find short-stories more interesting to write?

I plan to finish my ambitious book, ‘In search of God’, which is your ‘300+ pages’ novel. Instead of the ‘short story’ v/s ‘300 + pages novel’ debate, I believe every story has to be given the length as well as brevity it deserves. As a matter of fact, when I began writing ‘In search of God’, I wanted to write a short story. Little did I know that it would require a research of five years and a narration of 300 + pages. The story, ‘Neer’ in ‘Baker’s Dozen’ was intended to be written as a novel and a film script, but ended up becoming a short story. Hence it is never planned whether a story will be a short story or a full-fledged novel.

What are you currently working on? Would you also publish a compilation of your poems?

As of now, I am writing ‘Baker’s Dozen-2’, which is shaping up quite well, at least as of now, until I re-read it after the final compilation. Apart from this, I am also rewriting ‘In search of God’, a film and play script. I wish to publish a compilation of my English and Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) poems in a novella called ‘1000 Words’. It’s a love story of two poets set in India during the early sixties.

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